The Oak Park village board gave a qualified thumbs-up Monday night to proposed improvements intended to provide “identification and unification” to the half-mile-long Harrison Street Arts District.

The proposal would create duel lighted “gateway” structures on the revitalized street between Austin Boulevard on the east and Ridgeland Avenue on the west. The intersection of Lombard and Harrison would also likely be a focal point, with a single structure.

Sense of place: The Oak Park village board wants to go ahead with bids for work on “gateway” art stuctures and new, more artistic street signs as part of planned streetscape improvements to Harrison Street between Austin and Ridgeland.
Rendering courtesy of Lakota Group

The project is referred to as a “catalyst project,” infrastructure improvements made to foster greater use of and investment in areas. Harrison Street, which has experienced a renaissance largely without the involvement of the village, is need of some help, said Daniel Grove of Lakota Group, which conducted a series of focus groups and community meetings in the process of developing a plan.

Grove gave a half-hour presentation outlining an ambitious array of possible improvements for the village board to consider. He referred to the plan as a “menu,” and admitted that it’s unlikely they would do everything he suggested.

“What I’m looking for is, what things do you want to order off the menu,” he told the board. Others referred to it as a palette.

“This is an amazing plan here,” said Trustee Greg Marsey. “It’s a good palette to pull from.”

“It’s great to see something happening on Harrison Street,” said Trustee Jon Hale. “It’s long overdue.”

Marsey added that the Harrison Street Business Alliance was “wired into” the proposed plans and supported them.

Trustee Ray Johnson said that while he was “completely supportive” of the plans, he was a bit concerned that the emphasis was solely on an arts district, noting that the area is a burgeoning dining and shopping destination.

Grove said the any signage would not be exclusive, but simply a method for “establishing an opening sense of identity” to the area.

The area’s largest property owner, Chris Kleronomos, said he and his family were “elated” by the Lakota Group’s presentation.

“This is the first time ever that this area has received this high a recognition from any village board,” he said.

Kleronomos urged the board to remain open to private sector plans for a parking solution, plans he suggested would be forthcoming within the next 45 days.

Palette or menu, whatever the board chooses will cost money. Village Manager Tom Barwin said about $320,000 remained from a previous bond. That’s less than the estimated $425,000 needed for the proposed five gateway structures and lighting, and doesn’t factor in any street signage. Trustees, though, said planning could go on for the initial two elements as assessments were conducted for how to proceed on financing the rest of the proposed work.

Two years ago the board committed $2.5 million to improvements intended to stabilize the area and make it more attractive both to businesses and consumers.

“We made a commitment to this business district,” Johnson reminded his colleagues.

Village President David Pope said the village hoped to have bids sent out and returned within the next two months. Baring any complications, installation of the gateway structures and signage would be complete toward the end of the year.

Village Planner Craig Failor told the board that immediately below the gateway and signage installations are lighting updates. Those improvements, entailing four decorative street lights per block on either side of the street would cost around $1 million,” Failor estimated.

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